If you smoke two packs a day for most of your life, there's a real good chance you'll end up with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, the fourth leading cause of death in this country.
The most serious form is Emphysema, which afflicts about two million Americans. It's a terrible disease that leaves victims gasping for air 24 hours a day, and really, there are very few good treatments, but one option under study is lung reduction.
"If we can remove some of the areas with worse Emphysema, you can downsize the lung and give the better areas of lung without Emphysema a better chance to expand and breathe," says Dr. Byron Thomashow, pulmonologist.
It's a high risk procedure because patients with barely enough lung to keep them alive are having some of the diseased part that is left removed. And one road block has been proving to Medicare that this could work, so that it would cover the cost of the surgery.
For seven years now, 17 medical centers have been performing lung reduction in a national study to compare the quality of life and survival among Emphysema patients who have the surgery, and those who are treated only with oxygen and medication. The findings so far are that that lung reduction is not a cure, and it does not benefit all end stage Emphysema patients. But, the study is helping doctors determine which patients would be helped by this. Because for some, it is therapeutic and restores a better quality of life.
A doctor at Texas Tech told me that they are not included in the lung reduction study, but there are people here who can do the procedure, so, that if Medicare extends its coverage to include Emphysema patients at Texas Tech, they will be ready to offer the procedure. But as of yet, the only Texas facility participating in the lung reduction study is Baylor College of Medicine.